At the Collective, filmmakers call the shots
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
While there might be a lot of talk about the Academy Awards in Hollywood these days, a local group of filmmakers has been sticking close to home, and generating plenty of chatter themselves.
Budding and veteran filmmakers have come together to form the Bronx Film Collective.
The collective was launched this past September and has a cast of about 40 characters. Every Tuesday, as many as thirty members meet at a time at the Bronx Documentary Center. They screen each other’s films, write scripts, offer critiques of their work, and lend each other support.
There is also, naturally, a sense of camaraderie among its members.
“It’s like one big happy family,” said Brian Christian, who is a recent graduate of City College, where he studied film.
Christian is currently working on his third draft of a script for a film he wants to make. Working title: Homeboy.
Despite copious drafting, Christian still hasn’t figured out a name for his main character.
What he does know is that the main character gets shot.
One recent Tuesday evening, after reading aloud his second draft in front of his peers, Christian got input that prompted the third, and hopefully final, draft.
“It’s a godsend,” he says of the group.
Christian admits that he also likes the social aspect of the group, which chats at great length before, during and after meetings.
“Where else am I going to go on a Tuesday night?” he laughed.
The collective’s members represent a broad and diverse range of experience and background.
The one thing they all have in common, however, is their Bronx roots.
Zef Cota, who joined the collective in January, recently wrapped up production of his film The Korean Girl, a thriller/action film inspired by such 70’s flicks as Mean Streets and The French Connection. The Korean Girl features Rob Dama, a Bronx native from Pelham Bay, whom Cota calls “the next great actor from Pelham Parkway,” and Dahae Lee, a famous Korean actress.
It is a short film, the majority of which was shot in the Bronx.
Cota, unlike Christian, did not study film in school, and was an iron worker before starting his own production company.
“I am self-taught. I learned by watching films all my life, and then by doing. My first short film, Black Cherry Cheesecake, was sort of a trial by fire type of experience in learning about filmmaking,” he explained.
Cota says the collective provides a comfortable environment in which to cultivate his ideas.
“I started coming to get inspired by my peers,” he added, “[Here] we can support each other’s work—especially here in the Bronx, where most of us aren’t starting out with silver spoons or the children of Hollywood royalty. We have to do it on our own terms, and it’s important to stick together.”
Pepper Negron is one of the veteran filmmakers in the collective.
A professional photographer, Negron has been involved in almost every level of filmmaking. He has directed, produced, and writes scripts.
“I’m impressed. He does everything,” said Cota.
Two of his short films, Beauty, which he directed, and In Stillness I Lie, which he directed and wrote, were screened during a meeting held on Tues., Feb. 5th.
The two films have been in 8 film festivals, and have garnered Negron 3 awards.
The other members of the collective seek his advice, which he offers plainly: “Keep it simple. Don’t go crazy.”
Negron, who says he never did well in school, comes to the collective to learn and to help others learn.
“It’s a mental journey for me,” he says of the art of filmmaking.
Filmmaking, however, is often more than just a technical, mental, and artistic journey, he noted. It is also an adventure in dealing with other artists.
“Not everyone is going to be on the same page for you,” he said, especially if they’re unpaid actors working with amateur filmmakers.
Still, despite the difficulties, the collective has proven that collaboration can be had.
In December, several members of the collective worked together to compete in the 100-hour Film Festival, during which contestants have a hundred hours to script, produce and edit a short film.
Their short tragicomedy, Karat, directed by collective member Indio Ramkishun, landed a spot in the top 20.
The film was a Bronx project, from top to bottom. It was shot in a Bronx apartment, with a Bronx actress and crew.
Christian, for his part, got to do lighting.
Trevon Blondet, another member of the collective and volunteer from the Bronx Documentary Center, also worked on Karat. Having worked in television for News12 Long Island, Blondet had professional experience to contribute to the shoot.
“I was pleasantly surprised at what [we] turned out,” he said of the film. “As our first project as a collective, we will get better the more we work with each other.”
Blondet expects more such collaborations to come as the filmmakers learn from one another and draw inspiration from one another—as well as their borough.
“Filmmaking in the Bronx is important,” he said, “There are so many interesting stories here.”
For more on the Bronx Film Collective, please visit www.bronxdoc.org.